Apple Music vs. Spotify: Guess who’s winning now

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Guess who’s winning now

Apple wants to wow audiences about the progress of its music service, but it might be Spotify that really deserves your slow applause.

Cupertino, California-based Apple boasted at the iPhone 7 launch event on Wednesday that its subscription streaming service Apple Music had amassed 17 million paying members since it launched in June 2015. It added 2 million in less than three months.

That’s an impressive increase, but some quick math shows Apple and Spotify are adding subscribers at the same rate. And thanks to its huge advantage, Spotify outnumbers Apple by a large margin.

The figures confirm the notion that more consumers are choosing to stream music buffet-style than buy songs a la carte. That’s thanks in part to the heavy marketing Apple is pumping into its own subscription music service. The numbers also offer a new perspective on the horse race between the two companies that has become increasingly bitter this year.

Spotify and Apple both updated their subscriber figures in the last two weeks, and both released their member counts about five months earlier, giving an idea of how each service grew over the same time period.

Spotify added 9 million members to reach over 39 million in the five months from the end of March to the end of August. Apple Music gained 4 million subscribers to reach 17 million in the four and a half months since the end of April.

This means that both Apple and Spotify increased their membership by about 30 percent during the same time period. But because Spotify already has a larger customer base, the actual number of people signing up is more than double the number joining Apple’s service. If Apple wants to close the gap and overtake Spotify, it needs to start growing faster than its competitors.

“The reality right now is that Spotify is winning,” said Russ Crupnick, analyst and managing partner at MusicWatch. In addition to having the highest number of paid listeners and the strongest net additions, Spotify offers users who tend to spend more time on its platform than Apple Music subscribers spend on Apple’s service, according to Crupnick’s research.

Sweden-based Spotify launched almost eight years ago, compared to Apple Music’s late arrival on the market a year ago. Apple Music’s launch also faced early hiccups, including a bug that corrupted some customers’ iTunes libraries.

Spotify has another big advantage: It’s the only service allowed to stream songs on demand for free with advertising. In response, competitors like Apple Music and Tidal rely on exclusivity, such as Apple’s lock on Frank Ocean’s album “Blonde” and Tidal’s hold on Beyoncé’s album “Lemonade.” That led to reports that Spotify is cracking down on artists who grant exclusivity elsewhere.

As the recording industry insists that most paid services charge the same price for comparable catalogs of millions of songs, competition between streamers has become more intense this year. Exclusivity represents one of the main ways services differentiate themselves from the pack.

But the streaming music market still has “more ground to plow,” Crupnick said. “It’s still too early to pick a winner.”

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